255 – The WISER Model


How well do you manage your emotions? Do you feel like you’re on top of things or do you feel like you let situations get under your skin? Today I want to talk about a model I came across that can be a useful tool for managing your emotions, and handling situations like a stoic.

"Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it."

— Seneca

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, is a longitudinal study that was started in 1938. Researchers followed the same cohort for more than eighty years to gather information about quality of life. Every few years the participants were interview and subjected to a physical to track both mental and physical health.

The Good Life, a book by Robert Waldinger & Marc Schulz based on the data from the Harvard study, and were able two important conclusions:

First, was that those who handled the emotions better by facing them head on and not trying to repress or ignore them, generally reported a higher quality of life and better memories of the past.

Second, it is incredibly challenging for people to change their emotional responses. They found that it didn’t come down to willpower or intelligence, but rather their awareness of their coping patterns.

In studying those that managed their emotions in a healthy fashion, they found that there was a similar pattern amongst them. They call this the WISER model, and I’m going to explain it here.


When a strong emotion comes along, the first thing we need to do is engage our awareness. Usually our first reaction is based on an impulse and not a clear understanding of the full situation. When we give ourselves some space to get curious and just observe what’s going on, and see how we’re feeling, we can get a fuller picture of what’s really happening.

Waldinger and Schulz write, “Thoughtful observation can round out our initial impressions, expand our view of a situation, and press the pause button to prevent a potentially harmful reflexive response.”


"It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them."

— Epictetus

Once we have some more information, we need to interpret what we learned from observation. Often, situations are ambiguous and we jump to all sorts of conclusions. By asking what assumptions we made about the situation, we can quickly see were we misinterpreted what someone said or meant, or see what meaning we gave to something.


The Select stage is where we make a choice of what we want to do about the situation. This step should be a thoughtful and deliberate choice, and not reactive or impulsive. This is where we try to slow things down so that we can make choices that are inline with our values, and that have a better long term outcome.

"The key,” according to Waldinger and Schulz, “is to try to slow things down where you can, zoom in, and move from a fully automatic response to a more considered and purposeful response that aligns with who you are and what you are seeking to accomplish.”


Once you have made a choice, it’s time to put it into action. This part is can be challenging because it may mean that you have put yourself in an uncomfortable but necessary situation. But if you have taken the time to make a deliberate choice, this will be easier to do than if you are acting reflexively and will have better outcome than just ignoring the situation.


"The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control."

— Epictetus

The last step is to reflect on how things went. Did our plan work out as expected? Why or why not? What could we have done that might have been more effective? Taking the time to think about how things went helps inform us of how we can better handle things in the future. Even if we handle a situation well, this is a good step to take because it helps us to reinforce our good choices, as well as find even more room for improvement.


Dealing with strong emotions in the heat of the moment is not easy, and is something that we all need to work on. For me, I really like having an acronym that helps me walk through a useful process. When we’re struggling in the moment, it’s always helpful to have another tool at the ready. So go out and be a little Wiser.

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